SDCOE prepares San Diego districts for reopening of schools


YJ Si, Editor-in-Chief

The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) released a document outlining COVID-19 planning guidelines to be taken into account by all school districts in the county. Last updated April 28, it makes assumptions and bases recommendations on those assumptions to give a general guideline to districts regarding the reopening of public schools.

Following Governor Gavin Newsom’s statement on Tuesday about the possibility of schools beginning the 2020-2021 year in July, Poway Unified School District (PUSD) Superintendent Marian Kim-Phelps stated on the PUSD website that opening during that time was unlikely. 

“We have some major questions that need to be answered before we consider physically reopening schools,” she said. “The Poway Unified School District is already scheduled to return mid-August, on the 19th.” 

When schools do reopen, however, the SDCOE General Recommendation number 12 identifies options for staggered schedules, in which a certain portion of students attend school at assigned times, and make up other days with online distance learning options. This also includes providing every student with a free lunch before they return home each day.

The SDCOE also recommends that even if schools do reopen, districts should continue to use online resources to supplement physical learning. PUSD Board of Education President Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff said that the recommendations given by SDCOE, such as blending classroom and distance learning, helps with planning for future possibilities.

“I don’t think Zoom meetings, or some equivalent, will be disappearing any time soon,” she said. “[Returning to school] almost certainly won’t be business as usual.”

The very first assumption SDCOE notes in making these guidelines is that the virus will remain in circulation until a vaccine is developed. SDCOE Chief of Staff Music Watson said that the entire document has been built from there because the health and safety of staff and students has to be the starting point to determine when and how schools will reopen. 

The SDBOE Recovery Plan recommends that districts create contingency plans for reopening based on assumptions such as those listed above. The board also suggests when schools do reopen, they should limit group sizes, proactively screen students, staff, and visitors for symptoms, and socially distance in all settings.

Watson said that SDCOE’s team is currently building additional supporting materials to better prepare schools for reopening. More than just telling district and school leadership what to do, personnel at the county office of education are trying to help those leaders in the process of making those decisions.

“We are working hard, and in consultation with health experts, to prepare schools to reopen in a safe way,” Watson said. “We can’t educate students if they aren’t healthy and safe.”

The SDCOE directs school districts to “include parent and student voice when developing plans for next year.” Send us your thoughts at [email protected], and we will publish excerpts of your suggestions in two weeks.